Georgia’s Geopolitical Future at The Heart Of Its Protests
Analysts say Georgia’s protests reflect its internal political turmoil following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Georgia’s ruling party has reiterated its commitment to joining the EU and NATO.
In recent days, however, a “foreign agent” bill reminiscent of Russian legislation used to silence critics has sparked demonstrations, to which authorities responded with water cannons and tear gas.
Salome Zurabishvili congratulated protesters in Georgia after the government announced it would drop the bill.
The following is an overview:
Why are you worried?
There have been concerns that the Georgian government is flirting with the Kremlin and putting the Black Sea nation on an authoritarian path.
Thomas de Waal, a Carnegie Europe senior fellow, believes the Georgian Dream wants to turn the country into a one-party state.
According to Magdalena Dembinska of the University of Montreal, Georgian democracy was typically guarded by civil society and the media.
Although they have withdrawn the “foreign agent” law for now, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s party has raised concerns.
“It could have silenced civil society,” Dembinska said.
She said that it could also have contributed to stamping out criticism over the jailing of former president Mikheil Saakashvili in the run-up to the 2024 parliamentary elections.
He has been held since 2021 for “abuse of office,” though supporters call him a “political prisoner,” and EU nations have expressed concern about his declining health.
Is Tbilisi interested in joining the EU?
Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova applied for EU membership days after Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.
The EU granted formal candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau but said Tbilisi must first implement reforms.
As a result, political polarization was ended, democratic oversight was improved, judicial reform was implemented, freedom of the press was guaranteed, and the influence of oligarchs was fought.
In regards to joining the Western bloc, the Georgian government has been hot and cold.
According to Natia Seskuria, of the British think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), “they make statements claiming to be pro-EU, but their actions demonstrate a different reality.”
According to her, if it passes, Georgia will be alienated from the West.
According to opinion polls, however, a large majority of the population supports joining the European Union and NATO.
How does Russia’s influence play into this?
Ana Aptsiauri, a Georgian human rights activist, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that without a European perspective, Georgia will become Russia’s backyard.
Russia has historical ties with the former Soviet republic.
Even though the territories are recognized internationally as part of Georgia, Russia still controls Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions, where Russian is widely spoken.
Dembinska described the situation as “complex.”
Despite being predominantly pro-European, Georgians were “attached to the conservative values of the Georgian Orthodox church,” and the country was economically dependent on Russia.
Analysts told AFP that Russia’s primary concern is fighting in Ukraine.
Seskuria, of RUSI, said it was in Moscow’s interest to alienate Georgia from its democratic European aspirations.
“They must maintain their influence in the region,” she said.
What has changed since the Ukraine war?
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, Georgian politics have become even more polarized.
For many Georgians, the incursion evokes painful memories of the Russian ground assault in South Ossetia in August 2008.
When Saakashvili was president, discussions about Georgia joining NATO were put on hold by the 2008 war.
In 2010, a liaison office was established in the country as a NATO partner.
According to de Waal, “the geopolitical imperative is clear.”
According to Georgians, Russia occupied more land in Ukraine last year than their entire territory combined.
According to Seskuria, there is a “new security framework” emerging in the region.
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